- (Reuters) -- Thailand and Vietnam are
doing "excellent work" preparing for a possible bird flu pandemic,
paying attention to the threat at the highest levels but also helping local
communities get ready, the United Nations bird flu coordinator said on
- The U.S. government has been a strong
leader, despite considerable political risks -- not least the possibility
of being accused of crying wolf, Dr. David Nabarro said.
- "I saw excellent work being done
by Thailand," Nabarro told the World Health Care Congress in Washington.
"In the Thai case we have seen the prime minister ask one of the deputy
prime ministers to head an inter-ministry group," Nabarro told the
meeting of health care representatives. "The high level of political
attention is key." The governor of each Thai province was given responsibility
for preparing for a possible pandemic, Nabarro said.
- The H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread
to 20 new countries in just 6 weeks, Nabarro said. "We think it probably
went into Cote D'Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, in the past few days," he
said. [So far, the outbreak in Ivory Coast remains to be confirmed; see
further also about suspected outbreaks in Sudan, Africa's largest country.
- "It's a most extraordinarily rapid
movement that we have seen," he told the conference. The virus seems
to be carried partly by the poultry trade and partly by migrating birds,
- It mostly affects birds but it can occasionally
infect humans. It has been diagnosed in 194 people -- almost all had been
in close contact with infected birds -- and has killed 109 of them, according
to the World Health Organization. (These are WHO's official figures, updated
12 Apr 2006).
- Just a few mutations would give the virus
the ability to pass easily from human to human. This could spark a pandemic
that could kill millions in the space of a few months, and experts believe
H5N1 is closer to doing this than any strain of flu seen in more than 30
- The WHO has been urging countries to
prepare relief personnel, ready hospitals as best they can and educate
people about basic hygiene when handling poultry, Nabarro said.
- The United States has prepared a comprehensive
plan and held pandemic "summits" in more than 40 states. The
White House said on Monday that an implementation plan is close to being
presented to President George W. Bush for his signature.
- Thailand has run several exercises, Nabarro
said. He said countries like Thailand, which were hit by the devastating
tsunami in 2004, realized the importance of preparing for devastating emergencies.
- Vietnam, he said, had mobilized 100 000
workers to vaccinate poultry against the virus and assigned local government
officials to be in charge of preparations.
- Thailand and Vietnam had also mobilized
community groups and used mass media to inform the public, Nabarro said.
- He singled out Egypt, where the virus
has spread to 12 people, as a country not well prepared, saying, "Right
now they have got a lot of serious problems there."
- The virus has killed 3 people in Egypt
so far, WHO says. The country has a weak public health and veterinary system,
it is likely the virus could spread easily in birds without being detected,
experts have said.